The dangers of cloud computing

Tom James @ 21-07-2009

cloudJonathan Zittrain explores some of the downsides of the incipient cloud computing revolution in this article at the New York Times:

If you entrust your data to others, they can let you down or outright betray you. For example, if your favorite music is rented or authorized from an online subscription service rather than freely in your custody as a compact disc or an MP3 file on your hard drive, you can lose your music if you fall behind on your payments — or if the vendor goes bankrupt or loses interest in the service.

The crucial legacy of the personal computer is that anyone can write code for it and give or sell that code to you — and the vendors of the PC and its operating system have no more to say about it than your phone company does about which answering machine you decide to buy.

This freedom is at risk in the cloud, where the vendor of a platform has much more control over whether and how to let others write new software. Facebook allows outsiders to add functionality to the site but reserves the right to change that policy at any time, to charge a fee for applications, or to de-emphasize or eliminate apps that court controversy or that they simply don’t like.

As useful as storing links, calandars, emails, and documents in the cloud is I like to keep local backups of all my stuff (where possible). The further threat to the decentralised innovation that has characterised software development over the last several decades is another reason to be sceptical of the benefits of the cloud.

[image from Dan Queiroz on flickr]


Stross and Doctorow on privacy in the modern age

Paul Raven @ 03-06-2009

A few weeks back the Open Rights Group held a benefit talk just up the tracks from me in London that I was meant to go to, though sadly the realities of self-employment intruded and kept me at home. The speakers were Charlie Stross and Cory Doctorow – two very smart guys who, even if you’re not a fan of their fiction, have a lot of very interesting stuff to say on the matter of privacy and surveillance in the modern world.

Luckily for me (and everyone else) there’s video footage of the whole thing – and I heartily suggest you watch it. While somewhat focussed on the UK situation, the stuff about data security and information harvesting and ubiquitous surveillance is applicable to anyone who uses the web, has a government that uses computers or lives in a city or town with a CCTV presence… which (I imagine) covers pretty much everyone reading Futurismic right now.

There’s ninety minutes of video; the discussion between Stross and Doctorow fills a little less than the first half, but make the time to listen to the Q&A section afterwards as well. I’ve found myself with about four pages of notes and story ideas just from my first pass through, and I imagine there’ll be more when I go back to it. So get watching:

You know what would have made this even more interesting, though? If David Brin had been on the panel… now that would have been hands-down the debate of the year, at least for me.